Kate Beaton’s unique perspective, sharp sense of humor, and loose but deadly accurate drawing skills combine to create her brilliant “Hark! A Vagrant” comic strips and website, which have now been collected into a fantastic hardback volume by Drawn & Quarterly.
In her comic strip “Hark! A Vagrant” Beaton casts her biting satire across many categories: history, science, literature, and yes, even our beloved superheroes. When it comes to history, science, and literature Beaton takes her considerable knowledge and pairs it with a brutal funny bone to turn things on their ear to hilarious effect. When it comes to superheroes Beaton’s background in anything but superheroes works to her advantage as she puts creative spins on age-old favorites to create wonderfully unexpected results. Those unexpected results have launched Beaton into the mainstream superhero comics world significantly of late, with several pieces in Marvel’s “Strange Tales II” this past year. Her work in “Strange Tales” were some of the best offerings of that volume, and so long as she can keep bringing her distinctive eye to superheroes, we’ll all be better for it.
Beaton’s writing is smart and sharply funny, but it never feels mean, which is a relief. So much satire feels unnecessarily cruel these days, but Beaton rises above it all to find the gems without the nastiness.
Beaton works in a rough kinetic style, imperfect and full of emotion. While the look, on the surface, might appear crude, those that pass it by are missing out, as her expression work is alone is sublime, sometimes selling the bit even without words. Beaton can get more mileage out of a character’s face than some of the most detailed and realistic of artists. She also draws happens to draw amazing babies and fat ponies.
The collection itself is wonderful, with lots of white space for your eyes to rest on, but with strips plenty big enough for everything to be easily ingested. Beaton’s introductions to some strips and concepts are easily as funny as the strips themselves and should under no circumstances be skipped. The organization of the strips is my sole complaint in that it feels a little haphazard. It appears to be chronological and I can see why Beaton would make that decision -- avoiding burnout on a particular subject matter perhaps? -- but I found myself yearning for things to be grouped together a bit more logically, or at least in larger chunks.
Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant” collection is perfect for fans of her work both new and old. Whether you’ve already read every single strip online or are completely new to the work, the book is a must have for any comics fan that likes their humor smart and their visuals hilarious.